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New Novartis arthritis drug could generate billions

Arthritis can leave joints deformed (www.hospitalsanpablo.com)

Novartis's new arthritis drug, Prexige, could prove to be a windfall for the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, if analysts' predictions are correct.

Specialists at Lehman Brothers, an American investment bank, forecast that the drug could generate annual sales of SFr 3.26 billion ($2.2 billion).

Their optimism was further bolstered on Tuesday when a recent study showed that Prexige was more effective than its nearest rival, Celebrex.

A late-stage study into Prexige's ability to control arthritis pain showed that in high doses Prexige outperformed Celebrex, which is manufactured by Pharmacia Corporation, now part of Pfizer.

The trial compared the effects of a 400mg dose of Prexige with a 200mg dose of Celebrex on patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee.

The results showed that the higher dose of Prexige had a "significantly superior" pain killing ability compared with Celebrex after two, four and eight weeks of treatment.

When Celebrex and Prexige were compared in equal doses of 200mg, there was not much difference between the two.

Quick to act

One of the main findings however was that Prexige was quick to produce results - its painkilling power was most pronounced in the first two months of treatment.

"This more rapid onset of action of Prexige may provide a good marketing hook for Novartis in a category that will be fiercely competitive," a Lehman Brothers' analyst said

More information needed

Despite Lehman Brothers' enthusiasm, other industry analysts were wary, arguing that the different doses and the study's short length meant that more information was needed.

"Whilst the clinical data is encouraging, one has to be aware that you are not potentially comparing like-for-like," said Nigel Barnes from the investment bank, Merill Lynch.

The results of the 13-week trial were published on the American College of Rheumatology's website.

Novartis plans to file Prexige for US and European regulatory approval later this year.

swissinfo with agencies


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